Here's a corporation you probably didn't expect to get embroiled in an environmental controversy — Lego, the beloved children's toy manufacturer, who're currently weathering a blistering ad campaign from eco-group Greenpeace. The reason? Lego's deal with Shell Oil, which Greenpeace hates. And that disdain was revealed when the group's vibrant and striking anti-Shell ad, using music from The Lego Movie, hit the Web on Tuesday.
It's possible that your reaction to this news will run along either of two tracks — first, being surprised to learn that Lego, which prides itself publicly on its environmental merits, cut a promotional deal with Shell. Or second, thinking "oh, come on. Isn't this a bit much? Now I have to feel bad about Lego? Damn, Greenpeace."
Whether you ultimately do feel bad about it or not is entirely personal, but as for the first point, it is rather surprising. As Forbes points out, Lego maintains a "sustainability agenda" which would seem to preclude them from cutting multi-million dollar deals with major oil companies, especially companies that have recently been banned from drilling certain places over safety issues. What exactly is Greenpeace objecting to? Well, first things first, watch the video below.
Pretty slick, right? Regardless of your opinion on the kerfuffle at hand, it's hard to dispute the effectiveness of that ad — the art direction is pretty impressive, and it leaves an impact. Here's how the Lego/Shell partnership got off the ground, and where it's gone from there.
Shell Got Frozen Out of the Arctic
In early 2013, Shell temporarily halted their arctic oil drilling operations, which was followed by an announcement from outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar:
Shell will not be able to move forward into the Arctic to do any kind of exploration unless they have this integrated management plan put in place. It's that simple.
Shell had encountered a slew of technical and safety snafus while in the arctic, culminating in one of their offshore rigs running aground on New Year's Eve 2012. So the Obama administration said, for the time being, no more.
Shell and Lego Get Together
Greenpeace now alleges that the Shell partnership, signed in 2011 according to Lego President Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, is a marketing means to repair the tarnished image those mishaps and subsequent ban brought upon them, though the two companies getting together isn't a strictly modern phenomenon.
According to the Lego wiki Brickipedia, the two companies had a promotional relationship spanning from the 1960s all the way to 1999, before a 12-year lapse in relations.
Greenpeace Jumps Into the Fray
For the past two years, Greenpeace has been waging the "Save the Arctic" campaign, predictably focused on preventing the use of the arctic tundra for oil exploration. For an environmental group like Greenpeace, the import of this issue cuts multiple ways — not only is it motivated by a conservationist attitude, a desire to protect both habitats and animal species that rely on the health of the tundra, but it also sends a message about climate change.
It's no surprise that Greenpeace would object to arctic oil drilling, as they object to drilling just about anywhere in favor of pressing ahead on sustainable, green energy sources and research. This is an outlook on the world which Lego often flirts with — the toy company invested over a half-billion dollars to the construction of a wind farm in Germany in 2012 — but in this regard, Greenpeace finds Lego's green-mindedness (or ice-mindedness, really) to be lacking.
But Lego Ain't Backing Down
Based on their response to the ad, it seems a safe bet that Lego isn't going to be swayed by Greenpeace's broadside, or at the very least won't admit to as much. From Knudstorp's statement:
The Greenpeace campaign focuses on how Shell operates in a specific part of the world. We firmly believe that this matter must be handled between Shell and Greenpeace. We are saddened when the Lego brand is used as a tool in any dispute between organizations. We expect that Shell lives up to their responsibilities wherever they operate and take appropriate action to any potential claims should this not be the case.
It's easy to imagine that this won't placate the folks at Greenpeace. What does it matter that the campaign focuses on "a specific part of the world?" And expecting that Shell "lives up to their responsibilities," when a litany of their arctic incidents attests otherwise?
It's understandable why Lego wouldn't want to be dragged into this fight, given their generally sparkling reputation on such issues. But so long as they're on-board with Shell, you can expect Greenpeace and other environmental advocacy groups to keep crying hypocrisy. Lego can think of this as the price of playing, perhaps — the deal they struck with Shell is valued at over $100 million.